Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"This performance element - full of smoke and sweat as well as all the notes - gives the film life and rhythm that takes it beyond the realm of simple Wikipedia history." | Photo: Courtesy of DOC NYC

If you've ever wondered what it might be like to step inside Ronnie Scott's jazz club but have never had the chance, this documentary will take you there, it's steady pace allowing director Oliver Murray to drink in the atmosphere via a rich seam of archival footage, while also giving the history of the club, Ronnie and his partner Pete King a chance for solo riffs in the spotlight.

"Only an idiot would go into the jazz club business," Scott declares in one of the interviews that pepper this film. But, of course, Murray goes on to show that not only was Ronnie no idiot, he was also a fine saxophonist in his own right, a genial host and a savvy negotiator whose efforts to bring US talent to British shores paid off well beyond the walls of his club in terms of allowing a two-way street for musicians between the two countries.

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After introducing us to the Scott's of today, Murray takes a chronological approach to the material, whisking us back to the club's inception in a former cab drivers' cafe and emphasising the unusualness of the enterprise, in that it was run by a musician. Archive footage shows the Fifties giving way to the Sixties and beyond, while a raft of contributors - from Georgie Fame to Quincy Jones to, on a personal level, Scott and King's family - offer insights. Murray is also aware that music lovers will have also come to his film for the music and chunky pieces of performance are stitched through it, from A-listers including Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald  - often picking what feel like unusual moments, such as Van Morrison and Chet Baker teaming up for a melancholic rendition of Send In The Clowns.

This performance element - full of smoke and sweat as well as all the notes - gives the film life and rhythm that takes it beyond the realm of simple Wikipedia history, while the personal is also paramount, which lends the documentary and insider feel. In between the economic trials and tribulations of the club, Murray allows the contributors to shine a light on the friendship between Scott and King but also the mental health issues Scott grappled with throughout his life, his outlet the music that allowed him to "play his feelings" until, of all things, bad dentistry, robbed him of his gift. There is a minor key to much of the later material here, as the film considers Scott's struggles with depression but it is matched by its celebration of the way that creativity and independent mindedness can achieve great things against the odds.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2020
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Ronnie's packshot
A chronicle of the life of saxophonist Ronnie Scott, from poor, Jewish kid growing up in 1940s East End, London to the owner of the legendary night club, Ronnie’s.


DOC NYC 2020

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